By Andrew Khouri
9:00 AM EST, December 22, 2012
An Oregon man faces misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment after leaving his loaded semi-automatic handgun in a movie theater, where a 12-year-old boy found it.
Tillamook Police Chief Terry Wright said Gary Quackenbush, 61, of Tillamook County left his Beretta at the Coliseum Theatre on Tuesday night, putting people in danger when he failed to call police after noticing it was missing from his holster.
The next morning, about 150 junior high school students — ages 11 and 12 — sat down to watch "The Hobbit" at the Coliseum. It was a treat for those with good grades on the last day of school before Christmas break, Wright said.
A 12-year-old spotted the gun and alerted a teacher, who secured the weapon and called 911, Wright said. The theater was evacuated and searched before the children were let back in to watch the movie, he said.
“It could have been really tragic,” Wright told the Los Angeles Times. “He placed all those kids in harm’s way.”
Wright said the sheriff’s department has revoked Quackenbush’s concealed handgun permit.
Quackenbush told the Los Angeles Times he was petrified when he realized his gun was missing. He said the gun must have slipped out as he moved in his seat during the movie, and he didn’t notice it was gone until the drive home.
“I started calling the movie house and no one answered,” he said, adding that he kept calling until about 11:15 p.m.
He said he didn’t go back because he thought the theater was closed, and he was so upset that it didn’t occur to him to call police. He paced all night, he said, and went to the theater the next day to try to retrieve the gun. But police already had it.
The case has drawn media attention in the wake of two shootings last week -- one at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 children and six staffers, and another in a suburban Portland mall that killed two and wounded one. Both gunmen killed themselves.
Quackenbush said he has been vilified by authorities. “The safety of the people around me is paramount,” he said. “I would lay my life down to save an innocent, and to be painted as a monster, it borders on libel.”
He said he carried the gun into the movie theater as well as other public places to protect himself and others. He cited a July incident in Aurora, Colo., when a gunman sprayed a movie theater, killing 12 and wounding more than 50, as well as the Newtown massacre.
“My God, had there been an armed citizen, he could have taken them out and a lot less people would have died,” he said.
Quackenbush wrote an open letter to the community apologizing for the incident.
“You all have my most sincere apologies for the mishap and rest assured my intent is for the betterment and security of my friends and neighbors in Tillamook and nothing else,” he wrote.
Wright, who referred the case to the district attorney, said Quackenbush should have immediately called police — not the theater — after he realized the gun was missing, so the police could have opened the theater and retrieved the gun Tuesday night.
“He needed to call us,” Wright said.
Quackenbush said he has received more than a dozen calls of support, some calling for prayers.